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creamy cavatappi with artichoke and lemon

This past weekend we welcomed December with a truly epic winter holiday drink. Kevin Masse posted a recipe on the feedfeed for a double chocolate bourbon milkshake with peppermint bark, and it turned out to be just as amazing as it sounds. We shared a photo of this festive drink on our Instagram page, so be sure to follow us there so you stay up to date with all our posts! In between sipping these wintry milkshakes, we also managed to fit in some recipe testing to mixed results. We tried making a jambalaya which took over three hours, and a kale risotto, but both turned out to be a lot of work with very little payoff. Thankfully, our third contestant was a clear winner: a delicious pasta, with more flavor than the jambalaya and kale risotto combined, that comes together quickly in under 30 minutes. During this holiday season, amidst all the sweet cakes, cookies, and kugels, this simple and light meal is a breath of fresh air.

This creamy pasta is bursting with bright flavors. Tender artichoke hearts are gently sautéed with chopped shallots and red pepper flakes and seasoned with minced chives, fresh mint leaves, and lemon zest. This aromatic blend is then tossed with spirals of cavatappi pasta, along with smooth goat cheese, sharp pecorino romano, and freshly-squeezed lemon juice. The result is a zesty dish that is light and healthy, yet rich and deeply satisfying.

This dish packs quite the punch for using just thirteen ingredients. The shallots, with their beautiful violet-colored stripes, add a delicate flavor similar to an onion. Cavatappi, which is the Italian word for corkscrew, is almost like a long, curly macaroni noodle. It is fairly common, but if you can’t find it, any short chunky pasta will work, such as penne or farfalle. We have tried this recipe with both frozen and canned artichokes, and the canned variety has a tanginess that frozen artichokes often lack, and since there is no defrosting necessary, the prep is a breeze. The mint leaves may seem unexpected in a dish like this, but in fact it pairs perfectly with the tart lemon and goat cheese. The flavor is not overwhelming, and this is not a “minty” dish by any means, but it adds depth and a fresh herbal zing.

This gourmet meal is a quick and simple weeknight dinner. While you bring a pot of water to a boil, you can chop, zest, and grate all the ingredients. Then as the pasta cooks, you can sauté the fresh vegetables and herbs in a skillet. As soon as the pasta is finished, everything is tossed in one pot, and it is ready to serve. Not only is this a great mid-week dinner, it is perfect for this time of year, since the light, bright flavors are a welcome contrast to the indulgent foods we all love during the holidays.

Creamy Cavatappi with Artichoke and Lemon
adapted from Fine Cooking
serves 4 to 6

12 ounces cavatappi (corkscrew) pasta
1 tablespoon salted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, chopped
1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped chives
2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
1 lemon, zested and then juiced
3 ounces (about 1/2 cup) goat cheese, crumbled
2 ounces (1/2 cup) pecorino romano cheese, grated

Fill a large pot with 5 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt, and bring to a boil. When boiling, add the cavatappi and cook until al dente according to package directions, usually about 11 minutes.

While the pasta is cooking, place a large skillet over medium heat. Place the butter and olive oil in the skillet. When the butter melts, add the chopped shallots, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Then add the artichoke hearts, red pepper flakes, salt, and black pepper. Sauté for about 4 minutes, then remove from heat and stir in the chopped chives, mint, and lemon zest.

When the pasta is done cooking, dip a heatproof measuring cup in the water and collect about 1/2 cup of pasta cooking water. Drain the pasta, then return it to the pot. Add the goat cheese and pecorino, lemon juice, and about 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water. Stir until creamy and combined, then add the artichoke mixture. You can add more pasta water if needed to loosen the sauce. Stir gently to combine, then serve hot, and enjoy!